Synopsis: In this 1948 film, a former Army officer visits the family of a deceased troop in Key Largo, Florida. A hurricane and gangsters complicate his stay.
See here now, Key Largo is an old movie about tough guys and dames and what happens when they’re holed up at a hotel during a hurricane in Key Largo. You better believe that it features lots of smoking, high waisted trousers and speedy dialogue.
One of the 1940’s great noir actors, Humphrey Bogart plays WWII vet Frank McCloud. He travels to the Florida Keys in order to pay his respects to the father and widow of a soldier who was killed in action. He arrives at the Hotel Largo — a swell little place — and introduces himself to old Mr. Temple (Lionel Barrymore aka Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life) and the young widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall), who’s easy on the peepers.
It’s hurricane season so the place is shut down except for hosting four guys who are (supposedly) there for the fishing. They lounge around the lobby with its small bar and listen to the horse races on the radio. They’re accompanied by a middle aged woman, Gaye, who’s a boozy floozy. The head honcho stays put in his room, bathing and chewing on a burrito-sized cigar. These city slickers are clearly mob goons and a moll.
Even though it’s ninety degrees with ninety percent humidity, the people cover nearly every inch of their bodies in dressy clothes because this is the 1940s and to do otherwise would be scandalous. And of course trench coats will make an appearance too; just the thing for South Florida.
The goons try to get Bogie/Frank to down some hooch with them, but he’s no boozehound. Besides, he wants to help Nora ready the hotel and docked boats for an impending storm. Frank looks like he’s overdue to retire and Nora looks like she just graduated from high school, but there is a spark between them. A respectful 1940’s spark.
While old man Templeton sits in his wheelchair (like Mr. Potter, but he is nice in this movie) reminiscing about his son, the local sheriff and his deputy stop by looking for a couple of Seminole Indians who escaped custody. The old man, who is friendly with the locals, says he hasn’t seen them. The deputy wants to look around, but the sheriff– who you will later see is the dumbest man in the land– says no. And off they go.
Things get really tense when the man in the room is revealed. He’s portrayed by burly Edgar G. Robinson, well-known for playing the heavy in 30’s and 40’s gangster films. Now, I don’t know what kind of kink was involved in wanting this scene in the movie, but the coarse-looking older man is reclining in the bathtub with lots of soapy water undulating over his hairy chest. And there the camera stays for a disconcerting amount of time. I was surprised that the Hayes Code didn’t censor this disturbing nudity!Especially while everyone else is bundled up like it’s Christmas in New England.
When the head honcho emerges from his room, swaddled up like a prize fighter, he adjourns to the lobby and begins provoking Frank, Nora and Mr. Templeton. He thinks Frank’s a drip for having served his country. Before long, suspicions are roused, the palookas draw their guns and it’s up to our chums to keep the creeps from flipping their wigs! You see, the boss is notorious gangster Johnny Rocco who spent time in the Big House before being deported. He’s back for another shady deal that involves meeting some Miami mobsters at Key Largo.
He taunts Frank. He propositions Nora and when she scratches his face, he gets angry, but also likes her moxie. When the old man calls him “filth” repeatedly, he laughs at him. Rocco is a real nightmare, but there is one thing he’s afraid of: storms. The howling winds and rattling building give Rocco the jumps. The old man torments him by telling him that the last hurricane drowned hundreds. Frank asks Rocco, “Why don’t you shoot (the storm)?” Ha Ha! Good one, Frank!
We understand that Rocco hates Frank not because he is a wiseguy, but because he knows that he can never be half the man Frank is; Nora knows it too. She keeps shooting Frank anxious, yet sultry looks as he smokes cig after cig. But, Jeepers! Things are looking bad for our pals what with these thugs armed to the teeth and getting jumpier every minute.
Never fear, retro movie lover! The US of A didn’t win WWII for these hoods to get the better of a good egg like Frank McCloud. Turns out you’re the one behind the eight ball, Rocco!
CLASSIC MOVIE FACTOIDS from KEY LARGO:
–The trailer tells us that “Romance smolders in women until it conquers or kills.”
–Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married IRL. They made four films together, including To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946).
— Claire Trevor won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the gangster’s moll, Gaye Dawn.
— Director John Huston made six films with Bogie, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) for which Huston was awarded Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
–The only actual footage taken at Key Largo is in the opening scene, on the causeway. Otherwise it was filmed at Warner Bros. Burbank Studios.